Will Managerial Styles Win Games?

added 2/20/2013 by Bob Hulsey

There's yet to be a discouraging word spoken about the choice of Bo Porter as the new manager of the Houston Astros. Every description casts him as enthusiastic, motivational, strategic, fair and disciplined who will cast his image on the young and largely untested club he has received from Jeff Luhnow.

It would be unfair to criticize Porter when he has yet to manage his first game - that being the only criticism is the fact that he has yet to go mano-a-mano against Joe Madden, Jim Leyland, Ron Washington or Joe Girardi. There will be times this year where he will get out-managed as he, too, is a rookie just like a lot of his players. Mistakes will be made.

But I have seen a lot of managers and few rise above the mundane. Tommy Lasorda was a cheerleader who surrounded himself with great pitchers. Tony LaRussa was considered a master strategist - one who often thought outside the box. Bobby Cox and Joe Torre were leaders who seemed to figure out how to navigate any storm and come out on top. Earl Weaver and Billy Martin were volatile. They fought for (and occasionally with) their players so hard it was difficult not to play hard for them.

Porter for now is a blank slate but it might be worthwhile to look back at some of the past Astros managers and figure out where they came up short.

Harry Walker was a great hitter as a player and had excellent results as a batting coach. He was not a good judge of pitchers and the blacks on the club believed he was racist.

Bill Virdon and Art Howe were guys who seemed low-key and held a steady hand which was a great help to their young clubs. They were perhaps a bit too relaxed with veterans which can be a danger when the players feel they can ignore the manager.

Jimy Williams came to town proclaiming himself a teacher. It did not seem like a great fit for a veteran-laden team that had strong personalities already in charge of the clubhouse. Indeed, it wasn't.

Terry Collins was brought in after Howe and probably is the closest comparison to Porter of any of the past Houston managers. His intensity wore thin on the veterans which led to the change over to the laid-back Larry Dierker who understood pitching better than any Astros manager before or since.

I'm sure Porter would love to repeat the rookie success of Dierker or Hal Lanier but, given what he has to work with, even 70 wins would seem miraculous.

Perhaps the low expectations are the best thing Porter has in his favor for now. The problem is when losing turns to complacency as the 2013 Astros are built to lose. That became Brad Mills' problem by mid-season last year. It is hard to maintain a positive attitude when your hitters don't hit and your pitchers are like exploding cigars.

Just as I felt it was unfair to judge Mills on his won-loss record, I think it will be unfair to judge Porter in the same way. The real issue is whether he can get a team to climb out of the cellar and be competitive by next season. All the sabermetric theories in the world won't make lemonade out of a bunch of lemons but it might be a good time to experiment a bit with some of the theories and see if they are fact or just numbers.

As Porter begins this suicide mission, be gentle with him knowing he doesn't have a Pujols in the lineup or a Rivera in his bullpen. His DH hit .197 last year fercryinoutloud. He has to believe in that old adage that "there's no place to go but up".

The second question for Porter could be how long a leash he will be given by Luhnow and owner Jim Crane. What is their benchmark for improvement this year and next? There seems to be an expectation that, by 2015, the Astros will turn a corner and be competitive again. If that doesn't happen, will the blame fall on Porter when it might be that the prospects acquired weren't as good as advertised?

There's no shortage of people who want to manage in the major leagues and will take any situation, no matter how hopeless, just to establish themselves as one of the 30 who hold such a position. Luhnow and Crane know this. The old axiom goes "you fire the manager because you can't fire 25 players." So, I wish Porter gets a fairer test than the one Brad Mills received. He'll need every break he can get.